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Monday, April 22, 2024

UF wants your digits.

By now, you've probably seen the e-mail sent from Patricia Telles-Irvin, UF's vice president for student affairs. But if you haven't yet, we'll get you up to speed.

Before you can register for your spring classes, you'll have to hand over your emergency contact information. In response to the events at Virginia Tech and to create a "comprehensive emergency notification plan," UF wants students' cell phone numbers so it can notify students more quickly in emergency situations.

But we need some clarifications on how our numbers will be used. Students' numbers are exempt from public-record laws because they would only be used in case of emergency, the e-mail stated. That's good to know. We get enough junk mail and spam e-mails because our addresses and e-mails are public. We don't need phone calls, too, on where we can buy class rings or apply for illegitimate scholarships.

And the emergency-notification plan could be useful in case of personal emergencies, as well. If you're injured or in trouble, it might be helpful for UF to have a way to quickly notify your parents.

This system has some flaws, but they aren't all UF's fault.

First, and most obvious, not all students have cell phones. International students often don't bring their phones with them from home because of how expensive it is. Some students can't afford them. Others just don't want them. UF will not be able to require all students to enter a cell phone number because that could open up avenues for students to submit fake numbers. UF cannot penalize students without phones by preventing them from registering for classes.

Then we have the issue that not all cell phones are capable of receiving text messages. Hard as it is to believe, some students may still have really old cell phones (i.e. five years) that don't have color screens, don't take pictures, don't play music, have those changeable covers - and don't receive texts.

Also, there should be a way for students to opt out of receiving all or certain types of emergency texts. Texts cost many students money to send and receive. We already shell out for books, rent, tuition, food and a thousand other expenses. Now this?

For that matter, what qualifies as an emergency? Does UF plan to text us every time there's severe weather in the area or only in the most extreme of situations, such as if there is a killer on campus? UF needs to make sure it doesn't send us texts when e-mails would suffice, and it needs to make sure it knows where to draw the line between important information and an emergency.

The biggest question we have is, what if students' phone numbers are stolen or otherwise compromised? Sure, only UF and the contracted emergency text message provider will have access to our phone numbers, but in this digital age, anything stored on a computer could be stolen or abused. Hackers would probably love to get their hands on 50,000 phone numbers.

Tim Tebow already knows what that feels like. The rest of us don't need to learn, too.

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UF needs to give students more answers before this plan is put into place.

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